Fri, 29 Dec 2000

A question mark hangs over Indonesia's long-term future

Dr. Damien Kingsbury, executive officer of Monash Asia Institute, author and editor of six books on aspects of South- East Asian politics, is a TNI (Indonesian Armed Forces) observer. His latest book is Guns and Ballot Boxes: East Timor's vote for independence, published last year by Monash Asia Institute, and a forthcoming book, Southeast Asian Politics, will be published by Oxford University Press.

The following are excerpts from a interview with Dr. Kingsbury, currently in Dili, by The Jakarta Post's Melbourne- based contributor Dewi Anggraeni, which was conducted by email and telephone.

Question: Since our interview in March this year, several things have happened which proved your visions then were not far wrong, one being, any reform in TNI would be heavily politically motivated, and the scope of reform would be limited. What do you see as being the greatest impediment to reform? And what things, if any, are helping reform?

Answer: The greatest impediment to reform is that the TNI remains necessary to ensure Indonesia's territorial integrity. If the TNI gave up its territorial function the tendency for Indonesia to disintegrate would be considerable and the options for stopping it limited.

So, the territorial function remains, yet that is in itself perhaps the greatest obstacle facing reform. There is one, increasingly thought about, view that suggests that real reform cannot exist in Indonesia for structural reasons, and that if there is real reform Indonesia would cease to exist.

Q: You also mentioned that former Kostrad Chief Agus Wirahadikusumah may not be successful in overhauling the TNI. Well, he was dropped even before he went as far as shaking up the territorial structure. What was his biggest mistake? Trying too much too soon (uncovering massive corruption in Kostrad)?

A: Agus Wirahadikusumah tried too much too soon. He was also very noisy. I admire his efforts at reform, but he should have known to go gently until he had secured a strong position.

Of course, he would always have been on the outer with the TNI's conservatives, and even achieving Panglima (commander) would not have secured real change, as we saw with one or two panglimas under Soeharto, who failed to exercise real control over what was then ABRI.

In Agus' favor, there is also the view that had he waited until securing more power, he would have in effect been endorsing those problems he wanted to get rid of. That is, if you don't act against corruption you are complicit in it. It now seems that Gus Dur (President Abdurrahman Wahid) will consider Agus for a ministerial appointment.

It is good to have people like him and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in the cabinet, although it does mean that the real reformers are no longer in the TNI, which tends to reinforce its conservative elements.

I should add here that Kiki Sjahnakri's rise (to Army Deputy Chief of Staff) might take over from where Agus has left off. Contrary to some observations, I do not believe that Kiki represents the conservative element in the TNI. I think that he is committed to the reform agenda, if perhaps on a more careful basis than Agus.

Kiki has identified some oknum (unscrupulous officers) as being behind the Timor militias, for example, and while he has not stamped out the militias, no doubt due to them receiving powerful support from other places, he has identified their source of backing and I think can be expected to move against them as his own position consolidates.

Q: Do you think Gus Dur has done anything beyond superficial reform in terms of TNI? The musical chair game with positions of high ranking officers seems to have only made TNI even more unprofessional and uncontrollable.

A: Gus Dur's responses to the TNI, and to other institutions, seem to be based on changing personalities but not changing the structure. If there is not structural change then the problems will persist, or recur at a later date. Personalities are short- term responses and do not address the fundamental problems of the state, in law, the economy and, of course, the TNI.

Q: Looking back, what has the separation of the National Police Force from the Armed Forces done to national security?

A: It was a part of the "New Paradigm" plan, which has in part been implemented. But separating the police from the TNI was really only a small step and has not made a real difference to anything. The police still feel that they are under the indirect control of the TNI and are usually afraid to try to control TNI elements that are behaving inappropriately.

Q: Can you give examples where this has happened?

A: Events in East Timor up to the end of September 1999 are the clearest example of this, where the National Police was afraid to contradict TNI initiatives, or to use force to control TNI who were openly breaking the law. Of course, there have also been many other examples, such as in Kupang and throughout Nusa Tenggara, in Maluku and, in lesser, more day to day instances, throughout the archipelago

Q: Will the police force ever be really independent?

A: Not while the president fails to introduce structural reform which, of course, is extremely difficult.

Q: Do you think, the fact that the military is still the most organized power group in the country, despite no longer being directly involved in government, is a major reason why Gus Dur does not have enough muscle to tackle them?

A: The TNI still has an important block in the People's Consultative Assembly and is still represented at a local level. It also retains its territorial function, which instills its authority down to village level. The TNI may be weaker than it once was, but so are the other institutions of the state, so the TNI could probably be considered more powerful than in recent years, in relative terms.

Q: Could Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono do better?

A: Yudhoyono could do better by being a little more open and honest about who is doing what to whom. For example, his engagement with oknum and militia leaders from Timor does little to enhance his credibility, along with his statements that Indonesia had a program to resolve issues in West Timor and hence did not want the intervention of the UN.

I can understand why he said this, as he is under a lot of pressure not to alienate the more "nationalist" members of the elite. But it does little to help the cause of reform to pretend that problems don't exist where they so clearly do.

Having said that, I would like to think that Susilo is moving quietly to institute some genuine changes. He is probably the only person in Indonesia who has both the will and the capacity to do so, hence his appointment by Gus Dur to his current position. I wish him luck!

Q: If you observe political developments in Indonesia so far, do you see any real threat to national disintegration?

A: The threat to national disintegration comes from the diverse nature of the state, and its somewhat arbitrary construction. Having been a colony is not a sound basis for a modern state, nor is political repression, which has kept it together so far. There is, no doubt, a strong sense of "Indonesianess" in many Indonesians, but it is greater at the center and is far from universal in the outer regions.

History is long and Indonesia is young. It might survive, but it is too early to say that it will still be around in, say, another 50 years.

Q: What will regional autonomy do to the cohesion of the nation? Will it help placate secessionist aspirations?

A: The limited autonomy program, if properly implemented, is probably the best way to stop Indonesia falling apart. By giving some power back to the regions, some of the sense of grievance at being a part of a "Javanese empire" will be addressed.

However, placing more political and economic power in the hands of some -- perhaps even territorial commanders -- could create a warlord situation, which would be bad for the future of the state. Let's just say that both options have problems, but the current arrangement is clearly not working, so something else will have to be tried.

Q: The situation in West Papua and Aceh has brought to the surface the specter of the National Emergency Bill again. What dangers or threats do you see if the Bill is passed?

A: The bill could be used to reassert the authority of the TNI. There is certainly a view within some elements of the TNI that Indonesia needs another strong president, preferably with a military background. It could be that, if the situation deteriorated enough, the bill could be used to impose an effective state of martial law, which could lead to such a new political situation.

Q: The new Minister for Defense, Mohamad Mahfud suggested that Indonesia should have a new National Intelligence Body. Do you think Indonesia really needs it? Why?

A: Indonesia does not need a new national intelligence body and Mahfud, I think, is very much the wayang (puppet) of some powerful military people. He has been a very disappointing defense minister, especially after the intelligence and clarity of Juwono Sudarsono.

Q: Mahfud also seems to have inherent suspicions about the West's intentions about Indonesia, Australia included. Many see this as a nationalistic reaction to what is seen as bullying from the mighty West. What do you think?

A: Mahfud seems to be a man of either limited intellect or else totally beholden to people who wish to run a very particular agenda that is aimed at strengthening the role of the TNI.

There is, of course, international concern and pressure on Indonesia from many countries, but this is not unusual in international affairs and Mahfud should understand that Indonesia, like all other countries, is but one country in a global community. It is not a law unto itself.

I would have thought he and others like him would have learned that from the experience in East Timor after the ballot result was announced and the international community was obliged to step in to control a situation that factions of the TNI were so clearly orchestrating.

Q: Mahfud was personally appointed by Gus Dur. What does it say about Gus Dur?

A: I think it says one of three things: that Gus Dur's judgment on this matter was very poor, which is possible; that he appointed a weak defense minister to allow Yudhoyono to exercise real authority in that field, or that Mahfud's appointment was at the behest of conservative elements both within and retired from the TNI, whom Gus Dur is attempting to placate.

I suspect it is a combination of that latter two points, although no-one knows for sure, including some of those who are close to Gus Dur.

Q: Do you see Gus Dur staying on in power?

A: Gus Dur will stay in power until there is a suitable alternative. At the moment there are no real alternatives that could receive the broad support that Gus Dur initially had, and Indonesian politics is now much more factionalized and sectarian than a year ago, so agreement on a new president would be difficult to achieve.